Another Lycoris question

Jim McKenney
Sun, 16 Aug 2009 09:24:54 PDT
Jim Waddick wrote “Do not expect seed on L. squamigera. (PERIOD and in


He then adds, confusingly to me, “If you have time and plants there may be
some improved chances to get seed if you back cross L. squamigera to either
of its parents-“


This second statement seems to contradict the first one because it suggests
that there is a chance of getting seed on Lycoris squamigera. 


In fact, there are historic records of Lycoris squamigera setting viable
seed. Writing in Herbertia in 1979 (the on-line version says modified 28 May
2000)  in an article titled “At Long Last—Seeds On Lycoris squamigera” Sam
Caldwell reported this:  “By coincidence I received from Japan at about this
time a letter from my good gardener friend, Dr. Shuichi Hirao, who wrote: "I
want this letter to report you my 'finding' on lycoris. It is to obtain seed
from sterile species. The practice is very simple: just cut the bloom- stalk
after pollination and hang it downwards in the shade, or just lay on a shady
ground. The stalk will shrivel gradually from the cut end, but the umbel
will continue to live and the pod will swell gradually. If lucky you will
find one or more perfect seed in the pod after four to five weeks after the
pollination. I got a perfect seed out of three umbels of Lycoris squamigera
treated above."

So in the flowering season of 1976 I went back to work on L. squamigera,
using pollen from L. sanguinea, L. sprengeri, L. chinensis, L. "Sperryi" and
from a new unidentified yellow lycoris that looks much like L. squamigera.
Reciprocal crosses were made. I cut about 40 scapes, labeled them and hung
them in light shade in my greenhouse. For a time they made progress; seed
capsules fattened in an encouraging way. However, in September when they
were fully ripened it was a disappointing task to shell out the capsules,
umbel after umbel, and find no seed. But one scape looked particularly good
and, sure enough, when I peeled away the capsule covering, there they
were—three large, shiny, hard black seeds, one of them fully 3/8" in
diameter. This may sound absurd but plant breeders will understand—it was
like finding gold nuggets after a 20-year search! 

A label showed that this was the only scape of L. squamigera on which I had
applied pollen from L. chinensis. The secret was out. Lycoris squamigera
could produce seed in cooperation with the right partner. And as one might
guess, L. chinensis is something special. It is the big, beautiful hardy
yellow "spiderlily" type lycoris received in 1948 at the U.S.D.A.. Plant
Introduction Garden in Glenn Dale, Maryland from the Nanking, China Botanic
Garden. It came under the label, "L. aurea," but proved quite distinct from
what we regard as true L. aurea, that grows in Ft. Augustine, Florida and
other mild-winter areas. Dr. Traub named it L. chinensis in 1958. (See Fig.
7)…. Now back to the story of my 1976 crop of the three hybrid seeds, L.
squamigera X L. chinensis. These were planted in a 4" pot kept under a bench
in my cool greenhouse over winter, as I customarily handle all lycoris seed.
In March I carefully dug into the planting medium and was happy to find two
small white bulblets emerged from black seed covers. It was a sad day a few
weeks later when I again dug in and discovered both bulblets rotting. 

Fortunately the next flowering season, 1977, was a good one. There were two
scapes of L. chinenis, supplying plenty of pollen for use on dozens of L.
squamigera flowers. Some of these I cut and hung in the greenhouse, others
were placed in the greenhouse in a jar of water which was changed
occasionally, and still others were left outside on the bulbs as an
experiment. Those in water all decayed after a few weeks, but from the
greenhouse hung scapes and those gathered outside in mid-September I was
delighted to get 36 mature, sound seeds. (See Fig. 8). In fact, those
pollinated scapes left outside on their bulbs were quite as productive as
those brought into the greenhouse, so it would appear that cutting and
hanging is unnecessary.

Actually, the ratio of seeds to pollinated scape was low. Many scapes
produced no seeds at all. Six was the most from any one scape, while the
over-all average was slightly over one seed per scape, although I had
generally pollinated every flower.

This time, hoping to avoid decay of small bulblets, I planted the seeds in a
peatmoss-vermiculite mix with a fungicide added. The same medium was used
for all my other lycoris seeds of the 1977 season, and these germinated and
grew well. Not so the squamigera seeds. It is sad to report that about half
of them apparently rotted without germinating at all. Others did germinate
and develop plump little bulblets but these also decayed within a few

If you would like to read the entire article, simply Google “Caldwell

This article demonstrates the following:

a)      Lycoris squamigera is not invariably sterile. 

b)      Lycoris squamigera is capable of producing viable seeds

c)      Lycoris other than the purported parents of L. squamigera seem able
to induce seed formation in Lycoris squamigera.


Jim McKenney

Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone

My Virtual Maryland Garden



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